Ten years on from the London 2012 Paralympics, Helen Rowbotham assesses the Games’s legacy.
Sport should be accessible to everyone, irrespective of race, gender, economic background or whether you are disabled or not. It’s not new to say that participation is a good thing and leaving a sporting legacy was a big part of what brought the Olympic and Paralympic Games to London in 2012.
Ten years have now passed since the London 2012 Paralympics, an incredible moment in time when disability sport was front page news and massive crowds flocked to stadia to witness sporting icons deliver mesmerising performances and become the pride of the nation.
On the face of it, the Games had a positive impact on disabled young people taking part in sport, as we see every day at Access Sport. That stems from much more than those inspiring performances – the real game changers were investment in new community facilities and a host of new and exciting local sporting opportunities and partnerships.
The Paralympics also provided a much-needed boost for many sport-for-development charities, shining a light on the importance of the sector’s work and driving interest from corporate partners, philanthropists and the general public.
However, looking more closely now that the dust has settled, sadly investment in and access to inclusive community sport has not kept pace with rhetoric.
This is not a failure of the London 2012 Games per se. Sporting legacy doesn’t happen automatically – it requires long term investment. Instead, the last decade has witnessed budget cuts across the sector and an increased reliance on the not-for-profit and charity sector to deliver where authorities used to lead the way.
Today too many disabled young people remain unable to access the transformational benefits of community sport, and the pandemic and cost of living crisis have served to reinforce existing inequalities. Recent research by Activity Alliance found that only 30 per cent of disabled people felt encouraged to return to physical activity after the pandemic.
Sport matters in so many ways. Some love it for the medals and trophies, some for the stories behind the sporting icons and some love to lose themselves in the drama of competition. But the ability that sport has to support a disabled young person’s physical and mental health, build their life skills and prospects, and provide a sense of connection to their community is its real trump card – and potential for legacy.
Instead of looking backwards at the Paralympics, now is the time to look forwards to the next 10 years and create the change we want to see. Imagine if every community club had a disability inclusive offer – what a difference this would make.
Forming meaningful partnerships at national and regional levels will drive the positive impact that we need. Organisations, funders, investors – whoever – who want to make a difference now need to stand for inclusion in sport, supporting us to build a true sporting legacy.
Helen Rowbotham is CEO at Access Sport and will be speaking at the 2022 Active London conference. Visit londonsport.org/our-events/active-london/